Lovecraftian horror is such a solid genre and, as a result, has become the theme of quite a number of games these days. You can find Lovecraftian mythos across all types of games – card games, board games, and RPGs. Some have even started referring to Lovecraft (more specifically, Cthulhu) as the next theme to be overused (after zombies and cats). It seems that a lot of games that are released these days with the horror theme default to Lovecraftian horror. Now comes NecronomiCards (designed, illustrated, and self-published by Andy Hunt), a game of horror, strategy, and luck for 2 to 4 players that can be played in about 30-45 minutes. How does it stack up against other offerings available?
NecronomiCards is played with two decks of cards – a Spell Deck and a Summon Deck. The object of the game is to be the first player to use your Spell cards to draw and play seven Summon cards. To setup the game, separate the Spell cards, Summon cards, and Curse cards into three separate decks. Shuffle each deck individually and deal two cards to each player from the Spell Deck. Then take the top seven cards from the Curse Deck and shuffle them into the Spell Deck. The remaining Curse cards can be set aside; they will not be used in the game. Place the shuffled Summon and Spell Decks next to each other on the table, leaving room for a discard pile. Then simply choose a player to go first (play will continue clockwise). An example of a 4-player setup is shown to the right.
On your turn, draw the top card of the Spell Deck. If you draw a Curse card, immediately place it in the discard pile and resolve its effect. Your turn is now over and play moves to the player to the left. If the card you drew is not a Curse card, add it to your hand and then examine all of the Spell cards in your hand. You are looking for matching sets of Spell symbols on these cards – referred to as a Spell hand. If you have a Spell hand and wish to play it, you will reveal your sets to the other players, discard the cards used, and draw Summon cards from the Summon Deck. The number of cards you will draw is determined by the type of Spell hand that you revealed. When you draw Summon cards, you can immediately play one by placing it face up on the table in front of you. Then resolve the effect of the played Summon card. You can only play one Summon card on each turn, and playing a Summon card is not required on your turn. You may save any number of Summon cards to be played later (again, only one per turn). Be warned. If you have unplayed Summon cards, they can be lost before you have the chance to play them. Once a Summon card is played, it cannot be taken from you in any way.
If you do not have a Spell hand, check to make sure you have no more than six Spell cards in your hand. If you do, discard down to six cards. Unplayed Summon cards do not count toward this maximum hand size. You can see an in-progress game pictured above. In the picture, both players have played two Summon cards. Player one (at the bottom) has four Spell cards in-hand, as well as an unplayed Summon card. Player two (at the top) has two Spell cards in-hand. The picture to the right shows a completed game. Player one has won by playing seven Summon cards (compared to the five played by player two).
As stated earlier, there are three types of cards in NecronomiCards – Spell cards, Curse cards, and Summon cards. Let’s take a quick look at each.
Each Spell card has either 4 or 6 spell symbols. Some of these symbols differ greatly from one another. Others are incredibly similar. Be sure to play close attention to the symbols on your Spell cards when determining whether or not you have a Spell hand. Each Spell hand will allow you to draw a certain number of Summon cards. If you have 3 sets of matching pairs, you will draw one Summon card. If your Spell hand contains two sets of matching triplets (3 of one symbol, and 3 of another symbol), you will draw two Summon cards. Finally, if you have six of the same symbol, you will draw three Summon cards.
Hidden in the Spell deck are several Curse cards. These Curse cards can cause you to immediately lose turns, discard cards, or give cards to other players. These cards, as you can imagine, can quickly derail any strategy you may have had in place. Keep in mind that if you have unplayed Summon cards, these cards may also be lost as the result of a Curse card.
Each Summon card in the Summon Deck depicts a deity, demon, or other monster. These creatures come from a variety of religious, mythological, pop culture, or literary sources (some are – according to designer Andy Hunt – “just plain made-up”). Each card also contains a special ability that is activated as soon as the card is played to the table. These actions will cause your opponents (and sometimes you) to lose turns or cards. The first player to draw and play seven Summon cards is the winner. If you would like to play the game a bit longer, you can change the win condition so that the winner is the first to play 10 Summon cards (if playing with four players) or 13 Summon cards (if playing with two or three players).
Included in the Summon deck are cards that represent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Death, Pestilence, Famine, and War). In the incredibly unlikely event that you draw and play all four Horsemen to the table, you automatically win (regardless of how many other Summon cards have been played).
NecronomiCards is a very easy game to learn and is highly replayable. The fact that you can get through a game in roughly 30 minutes makes it a solid filler game addition to your game night. The cards themselves are great quality – Tarot-sized and printed on a heavy card stock. I don’t have any concerns with the cards wearing out for quite some time. They feel very solid in-hand, and the art on them is simply stunning. Artist Andy Hunt – who is also the game’s designer – did a fantastic job of capturing the mood of the various creatures. Horror characters are drawn and colored with a menacing palette, while there are other cards that are bright and almost fun (such as the “My Monstrous Pet” card). The various card abilities are similar, but different enough to make each game feel different. I’ve yet to feel that the game is getting stale, and – by no means – do I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over again. The addition (and danger) of the Curse cards to the Spell Deck keep you on your toes, and the possibility of drawing one on your turn keeps you from hording a multitude of Summon cards (since you could lose one or all of them at any time). The game does have a bit of a “take that” component, but those situations are caused by the Curse and Summon cards rather than a player making the choice to launch an attack.
If I have one complaint, it is that the game tends to slow down while a player is reviewing the symbols on his or her Spell cards. Because there are so many different symbols (some of which are very similar to one another), there can be a bit of analysis paralysis that sets in as a player looks over the cards in his or her hand to see what kinds of matching symbols – if any – they may have. Because of the size of the cards, it can also be difficult to hold them all in your hand while looking over the symbols on them – especially if you have small hands. This can slow the game down, especially in the first playthroughs. I like the idea of using the symbols to summon the various creatures. It feels very much like being a sorcerer reading arcane and ancient symbols to perform your spells. However, I can see some players being turned off to the game because of the potential for other players to take quite a bit of time to look over their cards. The pace of the game can certainly suffer. It’s possible that this could have been helped by having less symbols (or less similar ones), but I fear that doing so would have made the game too repetitive and greatly cut into the replayability.
I see the potential to have future expansions, introducing new creatures to summon, as well as new Spell cards (though I don’t know that adding new symbols would be a great idea). Expansions with new creatures – maybe new card abilities or ways to “kill” your opponents summoned creatures – could add to the game’s mechanics and add a new level of strategy (though some players may be opposed to having more “take that” than the game already has).
Overall, I would recommend NecronomiCards to anyone looking for a quick filler game with great art, simple rules, and great replayability. It is available to order now at necronomicards.com.